Posted on Sat, May 5, 2012
Rev. Dr. Merritt's Sermon for April 15, 2012
A Bad Rap
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
Trinity MCC Gainesville
April 15, 2012
Jesus is risen; HE IS RISEN INDEED. I’m sure most of you realize that this joyful acclamation is not just for Easter Sunday, but that it is also for these next six Sunday’s of what we call “Eastertide.” We are invited to celebrate the joys of Easter for a “week of weeks.” That tells me this must be a very important season; and it is. We have forty-nine days between Easter and Pentecost during which we can focus our attention on the resurrection and all that God accomplishes through it.
At the same time, we still know that even after the resurrection, our world is far from perfect. We still struggle through very difficult times financially. We still experience the illnesses and even death of loved ones. We are experiencing one of the meanest and uncivilized presidential campaigns in history – and it’s only April. We know that the resurrection is vitally important to us as Christians and we know it did not fix all the world’s ills. Still, this Gospel lesson has much to show us. So let’s think about it for a few minutes. Would you pray with me?
God, we come seeking your voice in this Eastertide. We love you and we bless you and we know that you hold us close to you at every moment of our lives. Guide us in these moments and show us what you would have us see. In your many names we pray; Amen.
Thomas gets a bad rap. I’ve read many biblical scholars this week, I’ve done my lectionary conference call with other MCC preachers and I have once again spent time in prayer and meditation over the gospel reading and I’m convinced, as many of them are, that Thomas gets a bad rap. Seminary Professor David Lose writes, “I think Thomas gets a bit of a bad rap. I don't think he's a "doubter" as much as he is a realist.” Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos writes simply, “Thomas got a bad rap.” Remember, Thomas had not been present for the first appearance of the resurrected Jesus to his disciples, so of course he wanted to see. So of course he wanted to see; wouldn’t you? Remember, Mary, his own mother did not recognize him in the garden near the tomb. He had changed. This Jesus appeared in a resurrected body and I’m just saying that I would have wanted to verify that this person calling himself Jesus was the real thing and not some imposter who planned to upset the balance of every single part of their lives.
Perhaps it would be more accurate for us to suggest that Thomas was a realist, rather than labeling him a faithless doubter. Frances J. Maloney, in his Sacra Pagina volume on the Gospel of Johns suggests that Thomas was already a believer, that Thomas did not require this physical act in order to believe, but he did need to verify that he and the others were dealing with the real Jesus. Who could blame him? I mean he saw Jesus nailed to cross and hee saw Jesus die. So why wouldn’t he want to have the same encounter with a really risen Jesus just like his colleagues, the other disciples did? You and I would want the same thing.
Now let’s have a moment of realism here. I know how hard it can be to believe. I know it is not easy. Don’t you? I know what it’s like to wonder, “Am I right about all of this?” I know what it’s like to let those old Baptist tapes start playing again and then to wonder, “Am I sure about this?” And I want to suggest to you that those are some of the most important moments of all in our spiritual lives. I hope you experience them on a very regular basis? Why? Because I hope when you experience them you will dig into the Biblical text for yourselves and really read what the Bible actually has to say. Sometimes you will be amazed, I promise you. I hope you will read good Biblical scholars who are able to unpack these difficult passages for you and help you come to your own conclusions. I hope that when you doubt, you will try on some new things and maybe even try some old things again. I hope you will become a spiritual realist who knows that you know that you know because you have not only studied to show yourselves approved, but that you have implemented what you have learned into your every day existence. That’s the value of doubting. That’s the value of studying and working it out all over again. That’s the value of touching the real Jesus and making your life like his life. I honestly pray that you will try on Thomas’s approach that I am calling “Spiritual Realism.” This is a very good practice for all of us.
Jesus asks Thomas, "Do you believe because you've seen? Blest are those who have not seen and yet come to believe!" I don't think -- as I used to -- that Jesus is rebuking Thomas. Instead, I think Jesus is blessing all those -- from John's community up to our own -- who have not seen and still believe. Jesus is blessing all those who have managed to come to a faith that is not the opposite of doubt but which lives with doubts and yet still finds a way to believe.
People like us, Resurrection people don’t have to get it all figured out before we come to church or embark on our own spiritual practice. We don’t need to figure it all out before we begin helping our neighbor or feeding the hungry or being present for a person in need. The truth is, if we had to answer all the questions ahead of time, we would never even get started. The truth is, because we are people of the resurrection we believe in message of Jesus even as we are doubting and figuring it out again and again. Hear that carefully, we believe in the message of Jesus even as we are figuring it out again and again.
I want to backtrack just a little bit. Notice verse twenty-one. “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the God has sent me, I am sending you.’” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the holy Spirit.” I always enjoy Biblical foreshadowing. Jesus alludes to a both/and here when he suggest that the disciples “receive the holy Spirit.” We also know that the day of Pentecost was still coming. Still, here God’s message, which I believe is the message for us this morning. Receive the Holy Spirit. Just as God sent Jesus, Jesus is sending you and you and you.
Let’s own this. Thomas got a bad rap. You and I know what that feels like. Many of us have been falsely accused, falsely labeled, falsely excluded, falsely demoralized and falsely shut out. Hear the words of Jesus this morning, Just as God has sent me, so I am sending you; sending you to be my witnesses, sending you to be the resurrection in the world, sending you to be the light of the world.
So I have a word for you this morning and here it is: Keep on doubting and believe that God is sending you to be God’s witness of love, grace and of the resurrection.
God bless you. AMEN.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the religious leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed… 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the God has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks…I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”